“When God Doesn’t Listen”

October 11, 2009
Hebrews 4:12-16 Job 23:1-9, 16-17

What do we do when God isn’t listening? It has happened to me a number of times and it was not a lot of fun. In fact, I’m pretty certain that it has probably happened to you even though you may not have had a name for it. There have been a number of times in the past few years when I was confident that God was going to do something amazing. I was sure that God was going to bring miraculous healing to someone who was in the hospital, or was going to do something that would trigger a time of fantastic growth in the church, or that God would heal some damaged relationship. But that isn’t always what happened. Sometimes when I prayed, the people I thought God would heal, died. Sometimes when I thought God was doing something in the church, I was mistaken. Sometimes broken relations didn’t get better. Even worse, there were periods of time that I couldn’t tell if God was listening to me at all. There have been times when heaven seemed to be closed and my prayers just bounced back to me. In Deuteronomy 28:23 this is described as a time when the sky is made of bronze. In Job 37:18 this condition is described as when the skies are “hard as a mirror of cast bronze.” What should we do when it feels like God isn’t listening? This morning, let’s return again to the story of Job and see if we can learn from his experience. (Job 23:1-9, 16-17)
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Then Job replied: "Even today my complaint is bitter; his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling! I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments. I would find out what he would answer me, and consider what he would say. Would he oppose me with great power? No, he would not press charges against me.

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There an upright man could present his case before him, and I would be delivered forever from my judge.
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"But if I go to the east, he is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find him. When he is at work in the north, I do not see him; when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.

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Job cannot find God no matter where he looks despite the fact that that Job is aware that God is at work. Job is a godly man. Job is a man who is accustomed to speaking with God and who is accustomed to at least feeling as if there is someone there. The feeling that God isn’t present, or listening, or responding obviously bothers Job…
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God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me. Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face. 1

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God’s absence and the absence of what Job has experienced as God’s presence terrifies Job because this loss, the loss of his closest companion, may well strike closer to home, closer to his feelings of stability than even the loss of his children. Job’s point is that even when his world was shaken, even when the rock that symbolized his foundation seemed to be missing, still Job refused to be silent, he refused to give up and stop praying and crying out to God. Job describes God’s lack of presence as “the thick darkness that covers my face.” God’s lack of responsiveness felt like darkness was covering Job’s face and suffocating him. Still, he persisted in prayer. Job’s feelings are not unique. At various times others in scripture have felt the same thing. In Psalm 22:115, the psalm writer, likely David, cries out to heaven because he does not see any indication that God is hearing or answering his prayers…
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My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?
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O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: "He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him." Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother's breast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.

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My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. David describes his fear and torment and says that all his strength has dried up like the water in the dust of the desert. A part of David’s lament, a part of his cry of sadness, is that he remembers the history of his 2

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people Israel. David remembers that his fathers and grandfathers called out to God and God heard and answered and so, in addition to his pain he is wondering, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ And yet… Despite David’s fear and despite the emptiness that he feels because God is not answering, even so he continues to pray, as evidenced by the prayer that we are reading. In both of these examples, the people who are suffering this loss are crushed and feel lost, confused, powerless and next to death. It can be a terrible ordeal, but what we can learn from Job and David is that these times are temporary. As hard as they are, they will pass, and, even when we are in the middle of them we cannot, nor should we ever, give up. We cannot, nor should we ever stop praying. In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul describes the power of the word of God and while he does, he also reveals a part of the answer to today’s mystery… (Hebrews 4:12-16)
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For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Paul says that the gospel message and all of the words of God, including the Old Testament, are living documents. Unlike the works of Aristotle or Plato or ancient Roman historians, the writings of scripture have endured and have maintained the power to change lives. As interesting and educational as the writings of other ancient people may be, I don’t recall anyone ever saying that the history of Caesar Augustus or the writings of Plato’s philosophy radically changed their lives and rescued them from a destructive lifestyle. As much logic and truth as one might expect to fined in the writings of Aristotle, people are not often convicted of their guilt and break down into tears while reading it. These things happen to people all over the world, in a multitude of languages, wherever people read the words of God in scripture. Building on that idea, Paul says that while the words of God carry an amazing power, greater still is the power of the creator God. Paul says “13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight” and that even the things that we try to keep covered up and secret are exposed to his view so that there will be no secrets when we stand before him for judgment. This is the next piece of the answer to today’s mystery. Even on those days when heaven seems like brass so that our prayers are bouncing off, even when it seems as if God is not listening, we know with a sure and certain confidence that God hears every word and is counting every tear that falls. Even better, Paul goes on to remind us that Jesus Christ is the one who is our High Priest, the one who stands before the great throne of heaven and intercedes for us, representing us to God. Paul says that because we know that Jesus stands before God on our behalf, we are able to hold firmly to our faith. We do not have a legalistic lawyer that represents us, and who quotes rules and regulations. We do not have an accountant who represents us who keeps a strict accounting of every mistake that we’ve ever made. Instead, we have the Son of God himself, the one who came to earth and who lived among us, as one of us, who knows what it is to be human, who knows what it feels like to be human. To go a step further, we remember the lesson from last week that because of our adoption as sons and daughters of God, we have become brothers and sisters of Jesus. Jesus understands us; he understands our weaknesses and our 3
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temptations because he felt them just as we feel them. Jesus understands how we feel because he has been where we are and has felt what we are feeling. Jesus himself, as he hung on the cross, echoed the words of David and cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34) Even Jesus, at that moment, felt as if heaven was closed and God wasn’t listening. Paul says that because it is this same Jesus who represents us in Heaven, and who intercedes for us before God, then we can “approach the throne of grace with confidence.” We can know that even when it seems as if heaven is closed, and even when it seems that God isn’t listening, we can be confident that God will hear every single whisper and count every single tear that falls. This confidence can help us so that we never give up hope, so that we never give up trying, so that we never stop praying and crying out to God. It is said that God is rarely early but never late. Paul encourages us, through prayer, to approach God’s throne with confidence, “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” We don’t always understand why our lives are as difficult as they sometimes are. We don’t always figure out what lesson God might have been teaching us or how God was preparing us for the future. We don’t always see the sense in the pain that we feel and the suffering that we witness in others, but we trust that God sees and understands more than we will ever will. God’s answers may not be the answers that we thought that we wanted. God’s answers may not come as swiftly as we had expected them. God’s answers may not be as joyous and painless as we thought they should have been, but we know that God never closes the doors of heaven. We know that God always hears every prayer and we know that his answers will flow outward filled with mercy and grace in our time of need. So what do we do, when God doesn’t seem to be listening? Be patient. Have faith. Encourage one another. Be persistent in prayer. And always remember that our brother, Jesus, understands our fear and our pain, he hears every prayer, he counts every tear, and he loves us more than we can ever know.

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You have been reading a message presented at Johnsville Grace and Steam Corners United Methodist Churches on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor of the Johnsville Parish. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Johnsville Grace UMC or Steam Corners UMC at P.O. Box 205, Shauck, Ohio 43349. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@johnsvillegrace.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at http://www.scribd.com/Pastor John Partridge All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

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